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03 August 2022

King's academic advises government on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence in the military

The Defence Studies Department academic contributed to the MoD’s Defence Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2022

Military laptio

Professor David Whetham, of the Defence Studies Department in the School of Security Studies, assisted in the development of the ethical principles central to the Defence Artificial (AI) Strategy for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The principles contribute to an ethical framework which will guide Defence’s approach to adopting AI. The approach is designed to ensure that people are placed at the heart of the process and considerations, with any AI-enabled system being assessed and considered in terms of its impact for everyone likely to be affected, whether they be MOD personnel, civilians or the actual targets of military action.

They specify that responsibility and accountability must be clearly articulated and understood, with the principles articulating the need for people interacting with AI systems to be able to understand their outputs appropriately.

The principles also highlight that it is vital to anticipate unintended biases and pursue mitigation strategies to ensure that harm is reduced or eliminated where possible.

The Defence AI Strategy aims to lay out the MoD’s vision of the challenges and opportunities presented by AI within the defence sphere. As a military ethicist working at the heart of UK Defence, Professor Whetham’s involvement has helped ensure that wider moral and ethical issues have been considered in the formation of the AI Strategy, in addition to the technical challenges presented by AI systems.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) acknowledged that AI, as a ‘transformative and disruptive new technology’, carries several inherent risks including within the training, development, and deployment of AI technologies. By placing human lives and wellbeing at the centre of the strategy, the MoD is aiming to evaluate both the long- and short-term implications for humans, including monitoring both positive and negative outcomes.

Professor Whetham, whose research explores military ethics, provided vital insight which helped shape the ethical guidelines for incorporating AI technology into UK defence, in order to mitigate these risks.

Professor Whetham said:

While there is still much work to do in operationalising these principles – embedding them in MoD planning and practices – they provide a good foundation from which to build.

Professor David Whetham

Professor Whetham has previously tackled the issue of ethics within the area of defence and the military, having been instrumental in the creation of pedagogic tools in multiple languages to assist in embedding best ethical practice. In addition to creating blended learning materials that have been adopted by multiple military institutions around the world, from Colombia to Australia, he has also created the Military Ethics playing cardsand accompanying free app, which are designed to support military service members in making more informed moral decisions within complex and time-pressured situations.

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David Whetham

Professor of Ethics and the Military Profession